Greetings, 'Rama readers! Ready for your weekly helping of Rapid-Fire Reviews? The Best Shots team has you covered, with a whopping 20 bite-sized reviews for your reading pleasure! So let's kick off today's column with Jolly Justin Partridge, III, as he takes a look at the latest issue of Thor: God of Thunder...
Thor: God of Thunder #20 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Jason Aaron has yet to hit a single low point since he took over writing duties of Thor. In this issue, Aaron raises the stakes on each front, both in the present and far future. This tightrope approach to the plots have set Aaron’s run apart from previous Thor arcs and kept each issue moving at a quick, fun pace. Esad Ribic made his return to the pages of God of Thunder last issue, but here he out does himself with his renderings of Old Galactus and the new big bad of the series, the Minotaur. Ribic has been melding personal emotions with insane, 2000 AD-like creatures and redesigns giving us a book that may be Marvel’s best looking comic on the shelves. Jason Aaron has clearly been having a blast writing the Asgardian Avenger, and from the looks of #20, we are in for nothing but great Thor comics from here on out.
Supergirl #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): We’re backtracking a little with this issue, since it takes place before recent events in Green Lantern and Red Lanterns, but it’s a solid issue. Tony Bedard explores the relationship between Kara and Siobhain a bit while Yildiray Cinar delivers a great looking fight comic. This might seem somewhat inconsequential considering we’ve moved forward in this story already, but it does a good job of grounding Kara’s character and gives her a focus that she lacks as rampaging rage monster in other books. (It also reminds us that the new svelte Lobo is still lurking.) Even with the Red Lantern ring engulfing the better parts of Kara’s personality, Bedard and Cinar are delivering solid storytelling and an intriguing start to the “Red Daughter of Krypton” arc.
Noah #1 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel give their own spin on the biblical tale in a darker, more epic version. While the plot is largely similar to the source material, the writers take liberty in adapting and reimagining the world before the flood. Though much of it is unexplained as to why it’s different and seemingly more advanced than we’d expect it to be, those details don’t weigh too heavily on readers as they’re guided through the familiar story and absolutely stunning visuals. Niko Henrichon on art absolutely nails it, especially with the more ethereal aspects of the narrative, including the visions, the angels, and depicting the creation story. Although the first two arcs of the book are fairly strong, the third loses a bit of control, mirroring Noah’s own character development, but ultimately makes the read feel heavier than it ought to. It’s Henrichon’s illustrations that propel the narrative enough so that it doesn’t suffer too much. For anyone even somewhat interested in the source material, this is definitely something to pick up.
Furious #3 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Readers get the opportunity to look a little more closely at the face behind the mask in Issue #3, but while we better understand what fuels this superheroine's fury, we're still left waiting for the moment when her past and present will come to a head. Artistically, Victor Santos' growth is noticeable as seen in the increasingly interesting angles and perspectives he finds when composing each panel. My only recommendation would be for greater consistency in her hair coloring as the changes from red to black become confusing, especially given Cadence Lark's penchant for referring to herself in the third person. Is that a subtle cue we're dealing with multiple identities? I wonder. Finally, the issue closes out with the reintroduction of Perfidia – a sister-like/doppelganger hell-bent on toppling Cadence Lark and her superhero persona, Furious. Furious has only handled thugs so far, so hopefully, readers will get to see these two tango next issue!
New Avengers #15 (Published by Marvel Comics; Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): It's getting harder and harder to defend this book. Jonathan Hickman has always been a writer that metes out information at a pace that he deems appropriate, but New Avengers has been moving at a pace that can only be described as glacial at this point. #15 is yet another issue comprised primarily of exposition and backstory that only feels like set up for later issues. I understand that high-concept titles such as this require a few issues of groundwork to hold the weight of the plot, but there is only so much standing around talking that a reader can take. Simone Bianchi is wasted here, beyond the pages detailing the Black Swan’s origins in a pocket universe. He’s an immensely talented artist and has shined in the pages of New Avengers previously, but when you have an artist as capable as Bianchi, giving him a script comprised of talking heads is almost a crime. New Avengers has been one of my favorite Marvel NOW titles, but after this and more than a few wheel spinning issues previously, it may be time to find a new team of super-jerks to follow.
Five Ghosts #10 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): The fourth part of the current arc takes readers on a trip to a mysterious island outside of the stream of time, as they begin to discover the fate of the warring pirate crews. Admittedly, readers will need to be current with the series for this issue to make sense – and even then, Barbiere introduces characters and beasts whose presence will make more sense for current readers by the next issue. It's also interesting to see how the different soul stones interact and react to one another, and this issue certainly provides ample opportunity for Mooneyham and Affe to put their artistic abilities to work as they recreate the mystical powers of each character's respective gems. Even if the story is busy with laying the groundwork for the final confrontation in Part Five of the arc, readers will no doubt enjoy the visual feast awaiting them in this swashbuckling seafaring adventure.
Batwoman #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Marc Andreyko is finally starting to come into his own on this book. “Zero Year” sort of upended his debut and it’s become clear that his rocky start served to get us here. Maggie concern with Kate mental health is warranted. And while her instability was clumsily communicated before, Andreyko is finding her voice. The psychiatrist scene puts forth a familiar idea for a Bat family book. For one, is superheroing a result of ailing mental health or something altruistic? Kate seems to think that it’s necessary. Maggie is concerned that it’s becoming a crutch. Their conflict is more interesting than art thief, the Wolf Spider, but at least this issue will result in a great fight scene next month. Jason Masters and Jeremy Haun’s work looks much better this time around, too.What they lack in facial consistency at times, they make up for with good panel composition and a few truly great moments inside Arkham Asylum. Time has given this creative team the opportunity to gel and Batwoman is better for it.
Sex Criminals #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): What a weird, funny comic. From dildo pistols and sex police to pooping in potted plants, this book runs the gamut of unexpected plot devices and characters. And while Fraction and Zdarsky show no hesitation to tackle any topic or scenario, they continue to keep the spotlight firmly on developing their two main characters – John and Suzie. We learn a bit more about what makes John tick and ticks him off, which lays the seed for some possible conflicts between the two down the road. Suzie, meanwhile, figures out more than just how to turn the tables on the sex police and goes on the offensive by the end of the issue. There's a lot of good things to be said for Zdarksy's art, but I think his facial expressions stood out most to me both in the way they carried the humor of the moment and cued readers into each character's emotional state. There's no mistaking that there is some good storytelling taking place in this issue.
Iron Man #23 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Justin Partridge, III; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10.): After a forgetful jaunt into the intrigue of city planning, Kieron Gillen throws Tony Stark into the realms of magic, pitting him against the unlikely antagonist, Malekith the Accursed. It's a complete 180-degree turn away from the tech-based enemies and space-based threats that Gillen has pit Tony against in previous issues and is a welcome change of narrative gears for the book. Artist Luke Ross handles pencils on this new arc and it is arguably the best the title has ever looked. Ross effortlessly blends the world of the dark elves with Stark’s world of high technology, finally giving the book a singular look instead of the bland, interchangeable artwork that has come before. Tony Stark has always been a man of science, but now he’s facing an foe that transcends mere human technology and is unlike anything he’s faced before, finally giving this new volume of Iron Man an interesting, fresh new direction.
American Vampire: Second Cycle #1 (Published by Vertigo Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Snyder and Albuquerque kickstart the first issue of Second Cycle following a yearlong hiatus that both welcomes new readers and longtime fans looking to take another bite out of their favorite "abominus Americana liber." In some places, the book moves slowly and deliberately to ease readers back into the world of Pearl and Skinner as evidenced by the two double-page spreads, which serve as powerful visual summaries for each character's backstory. In others instances, however, readers will find themselves frantically turning the page to figure out what happens next as exemplified in the appearances of the demonic whirling dervish that descends from above taking its hapless victims with it. And the reality is this story would surely fall short without Albuquerque's brooding brushwork working in tandem with McCaig's evocative and oft-times otherworldly coloring, which bring Snyder's script to life. By the story's end, these three creators will undoubtedly have readers thirsty for more.
White Suits #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue of White Suits takes no pause and sends the reader right into the action with a flashback from the protagonist. Toby Cypress is definitely the highlight of the issue, as his really unique art style continues to impress: the sparse use of color dramatizes the long, accentuated line art. While some might find his composition a little bombastic, with too much visually going on at certain points, it’s a thrill to dissect what’s going on from page-to-page. It’s clear that writer Frank Barbiere isn’t catering to a casual reader, as the narrative continues to encourage several read-throughs to understand everything that’s going on both in the story and in the illustrations. Though the protagonist’s internal monologue and the overly gratuitous cursing can sometimes make the reading experience drag, the issue remains, overall, as a strong addition to the growing storyline.
Ms. Marvel #2 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): The second issue picks up with Kamala attempting to come to grips not only with her newfound powers but also the application of the heroic notion that the simple act of saving one person is a step towards saving all humanity. It's a Romantic notion, and arguably, a concept missing from many contemporary superhero comics. In many regards, Wilson Ms. Marvel takes aim at the classic storytelling of Ditko and Lee in Amazing Fantasy #15 but spins her yarn for a contemporary audience while underscoring the broad appeal of this genre. Artistically, Alphono provides a similarly delicate line to that of Ditko, which emulates both the awkwardness and emotionality of adolescence. Like Kelly Sue DeConnick's Captain Marvel,it's really nice to see a comic that eschews the brooding, postmodern take on superheroes and looks instead to capture the sense of joy and inspiration these heroes can bring.
The Terminator: Enemy Of My Enemy #2 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Writer Dan Jolley takes us back to the Terminator roots as high-intense, satisfying action scenes dominate the issue. While we still may not know much about Farrow Greene, we know that she’s a formidable fighter in her own right to survive two hand-to-hand encounters with a Terminator. Jolley takes the time to flesh out Dr. Fong with a snippet of backstory and an interesting hand in the future creation of the Terminators, both of which add to the issue as a whole. Artist Jamal Igle is the highlight of the series, especially with the fight scenes. The poses are very dynamic and fluid, and Greene is consistently well drawn in a variety of perspectives. While the breakdowns of the fight scenes are Igle’s strength, there are other parts of the issue that feel rushed, particularly in the last page and when Greene abducts Dr. Fong—simply too much happens in too little panels, making it difficult at times for readers to follow.
The Witcher #1 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): This may be just because I didn’t play the game, but this series fails to hook a broader audience with no prior connection to the franchise. Writer Paul Tobin attempts to draw readers in by making the readers care about Jakob, a Hunter, and Geralt, a Witcher; however, he doesn’t delve past the surface in Jakob’s relationship with his undead wife. We never see what made their relationship so special and strong, so we can’t fully get behind Jakob and his story. Readers without knowledge of the game will feel even less invested in the story. The art by Joe Querio is sometimes static and overly stocky, with the proportions of the characters sometimes out of whack; it doesn’t help that the colors are darker and the inks are heavier than usual. While these qualities fit with the tone of the piece, the visuals get bogged down. If you’re a fan of the original series, it’s probably worth a look, but for anyone without knowledge of the source material, take a pass.
Harley Quinn #4 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Sure, putting the fan-idolized character in a solo title is brilliant, but choosing to use her overly sexualized and violent modern interpretation as a Looney Toon is a little too much. The plot veers all over the place and takes detours that really dislodge the flow of the story - like a hackneyed Star Wars cantina scene or Harl detouring to run over some roller derby girls. The real saving grace is the artwork by Stephane Roux. Tagging in after Chad Hardin's first three issues, Roux is the perfect mix for the cartoon meets sexpot character, with a style somewhere between Frank Cho and J. Scott Campbell. Social crusader Harley Quinn is a fine idea, but I think some focus on the structure and some responsible decisions about the character couldn’t hurt, too.
Loki: Ragnarok and Roll #2 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): Loki succeeds as a character when he plays against his family, but as a lead in a rock-and-roll band, Loki feels more like a soapbox spokesperson than the funny, misunderstood black sheep of the family he was last issue. Writer Eric Esquivel decides to jump forward six months, six days, and six hours later again detracts from that momentum, especially since it ended with Thor’s ominous appearance on Midgard. While the exploration of power and devotion are interesting, especially in the comparison Esquivel draws between gods and rock stars, it simply felt too heavy handed this time around. It helps that Jerry Gaylord’s art is still incredibly enjoyable: the lanky bodies and caricatured features all fit within the fun tone of the issue. As bogged down as it felt at times, the issue, as a whole, was still a fairly good read, and now that Thor and Loki are reunited, perhaps the charm and witty repertoire between the two will return and enhance the narrative.
Uncanny X-Men #19.NOW (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): For a book billed as “X-Men vs. S.H.I.E.L.D.” it’s curious that they don’t ever really appear on panel together. In true Brian Michael Bendis form, we get a lot of talking and a lot of exposition and a lot of set-up that is bound to pay off eventually but just doesn’t make for a compelling comic book. Bendis’s attempts at creating drama and intrigue don’t totally work because he doesn’t bait us enough. Chris Bachalo’s artwork remains consistent and his work with Magik specifically in the final pages is truly inspiring. And if anyone can make Bendis’ overly talkie comics less tiresome, it’s Bachalo with his knack for expressive cartooning. Still, the details covered here will inevitably be touched on again which begs the question: what’s the point of deconstruction if you’re just going to have to repeat yourself over and over?
Clockwork Angels #1 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Michael Moccio; ‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10): This is by no means a bad comic, but it lacks a meaningful beginning to fully engage the readers. Writer Kevin J. Anderson just doesn’t give us enough of a reason to root for the protagonist, and the world around him — though we don’t know much about it — which doesn’t make us feel invested in his success. Owen Hardy feels like dreamers we’ve seen before in a world we feel vaguely familiar with, and nothing really stands out to make it an above average read. Nick Roble on art is what saves the issue, with his painterly style that brings this steam-punk environment to life. While the bodies themselves at times feel clunky, the colors and background art more than make up for that static feeling, as the world feels incredibly fleshed out. Hopefully in the coming issues, we’ll learn more about Owen Hardy’s motivations so we can readily believe he’s so willing to abandon his father and the exact nature of the connection between him and the Watchmaker.
Suicide Squad #29 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Pierce Lydon; 'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10): Matt Kindt’s run on Suicide Squad ends with a whimper. Kevin Kho struggles to control OMAC while the team struggles just to survive. While there’s potential in the idea of an OMAC construct being fought over by multiple personalities, Kindt doesn’t sell it. It’s never clear what Kho is actually doing to take control which causes the conflict to call flat. Jim Fern’s pencils have a few great moments (like the Squad’s all-out attack on OMAC) but mostly they just exist to move the story along. There’s no wow factor in this one. It’s just being seen through to the end. The ending does move toward resetting the concept of the Suicide Squad, maybe in the hopes that a new writer can do them some justice in the future.
Curse #3 (Published by BOOM! Studios; Review by Forrest C. Helvie; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): This issue sheds light on the tragic connection Anton shares with Laney, but the endgame is still unclear, which works well to build reader interest in returning for Issue #4. Without a doubt, the team behind this four-part mini-series have a lot of ground to cover before wrapping the story up next month. As time runs out on multiple fronts, I'm really curious to see if this will be the end of the road for the ex-football star or the beginning of something new. The artwork continues to apply a rough, raw edge with a cool color palette that is well-suited to the setting of this story and its cast of rough and physical characters.